As you surely know, Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year (if you didn’t know that, you’re welcome for the heads-up). That seems to call for a Saturday night celebration of a love as rare and true as yours, and tending to your Valentine’s dinner needs is the perfect way to show how much you care. After all, who wants to kill the mood by tackling cooking and clean-up duties on such a momentous day? No need for all that fuss, here’s a list of 9 great restaurants in Wellesley, and 1 beyond Wellesley, to take your Valentine. We’ve compiled and condensed some of our past reviews of these romantic hot spots, to give you and idea of what you’re getting yourself into.
Blue Ginger, 583 Washington St.
Wellesley’s best known and most unique restaurant is Blue Ginger, opened by Ming and Polly Tsai in 1998. Blue Ginger, which features east-meets-west cuisine, is on the upscale side, though the bar area offer a more casual atmosphere. Their specialty cocktails list includes offerings such as the Ichabod Crane, a wintry mix of rye, allspice, and apple cider reduction ($12) or try out a Peak Organic Nut Brown beer ($7). Appetizers include selections such as their charcuterie plate with duck prosciutto, chicken liver mousse, basturma, and country pate ($15) and shiitake-leek spring rolls ($12). Entrees are where the creative team really shines with offerings that include sake-miso marinated sablefish ($41); and pan-seared kurobuta pork porterhouse with apple cider pork jus ($32).
Juniper, 13 Central St.
For starters at this hot spot (opened in 2014 by the owners of Needham’s Sweet Basil) we tried out the eggplant baba ghanoush served with pita bread ($6). Its creamy texture and smoky flavor, along with the homemade pita, made it a winner. Another popular app is the chicken shish taouk with braised greens and harissa yogurt ($12).
Entrees include kavavia (Greek seafood stew) made with mussels, shrimp, calamari, tomato broth, potatoes, and crostini ($28) and the braised faux beef shortribs with porcini broth, pecorino millet polenta, and gingered carrot slaw ($27). Absolutely to die for, and something I’ve had on at least three occasions here, is the charred octopus, never overdone or rubbery, always fork-tender and perfect ($14, appetizer).
Bocado, 45 Church St.
Bocado hit instant popularity since its 2014 opening. On our visit, we tried out the bacon wrapped scallops with white truffle honey ($9.50), which were fantastic. Also a hit was the raw tuna with lemon basil crema ($13), although the sweet potato chips that were served alongside it were limp, not crispy as I expected. The mozzarella stuffed crispy rice balls with basil aioli ($6.40) got a big thumbs up. Just as we thought maybe we were filling up, a generous platter of beef tenderloin with potatoes and roquefort cream came out. That delicious dish was nearly our undoing, and it’s true that we were unable to eat our way through all the potatoes, even though they were salty and crispy-browned. Somehow the tenderloin disappeared.
The menu encourages diners to complete the experience by sharing a pitcher of sangria for $25, but we weren’t all sold on the sangria, so we ordered our drinks individually. The diner who ordered the sangria reported that it had the requisite red wine fruitiness she expected. I ordered a beer on tap and was served a 10-ounce glassful. Seemed skimpy, but beer is not where Bocado is putting their emphasis, as their extensive wine and sherry list makes clear. Our friendly bartender made sure everyone remained content and refilled our glasses with water or other, as needed.
Then dessert came out, a donut-like confection served with chocolate dipping sauce. In a supreme effort of mind over satiety cues, we plowed through it, and it was just light and airy enough to convince us that it hardly counted in the grand scheme of things. Whatever we thought we meant by that.
Alta Strada, 92 Central St.
This is the type of restaurant where you sit down and have a lovely meal, tended to by knowledgeable but unobtrusive wait staff. The clean, open space allows you to see and be seen at either tables or at the bar. Appetizers include roasted autumn squash with spiced pumpkin seeds; white beans with rosemary; broccoli rabe with chiles (appetizers are 3 for $18 or 5 for $30). Also on the menu are salads, individual pizzas with a creative flair; pasta dishes, and main dishes such as grilled chicken breast and arugula salad ($19); local swordfish with gigante beans ($33); and more.
Amarin, 27 Grove St.
I’ve eaten here only once, for lunch, and ordered what turned out to be a memorable bowl of Muslim Noodles, made with spicy Indonesian coconut curry with tofu, hard-boiled egg, and bean sprouts, served with a choice of beef or chicken $9.50). It warmed me to my very core on a cold winter day. The dining room, with its white tablecloths and cozy feel, make it the perfect place to bring a date.
Cafe Mangal, 555 Washington St.
This elegant spot, in Wellesley for 15 years, serves Mediterranean and American cuisine with a heavy Turkish influence. Worth noting: Cafe Mangal is a BYOB establishment, and it is closed Sundays. New on the menu: Turkish style shrimp casserole ($15), baked portobello mushroom with roasted red peppers and chevre ($15), and Mediterranean style quinoa salad with French fetal cheese ($14). If you go for lunch, expect to see a lot of ladies. Dinner in this unique place is more of the Valentine date night experience you’re looking for.
The Local, 11 Forest St.
I sat with a group of six who ordered drinks and a selection of $5 appetizers, or Snack Things as The Local calls them (Fried Pickles, Truffle Parmesan Fries, Crispy Onion Things). Everything on the menu is listed under a Thing category, with items scaling to $20 and up for salmon and skirt steak dishes. We also ordered chicken wings ($10), which came in spicy sauce, plus ginger cheesecake as a finisher (all desserts are $7). A bunch of the appetizers arrived in adorable little tin dishes. Our party enjoyed all of the food, with one member going so far as to call the fried pickles as “great”
The Local offers a wide variety of drinks, with beers served in solid straight-up 16 or 20 ounce glasses running I believe $6 or $7 apiece — so probably not the kind of place that’s going to attract a big hang-out-and-watch-the-game crowd. Fancy drinks include the Blueberry Mai Tai and Ginger Whiskey Smash.
We sat at the far end of the restaurant, which seems to be miles away from the entrance. The layout overall is broken up nicely with the bar and another section semi-surrounded with dividers. The lighting in the restaurant — and this is key for a cozy date — is minimal, giving the place an intimate feel despite its size. The decor is simple and nice, with elegant overhead lighting and big black-and-white framed photos of sports and old-timey Wellesley scenes. Our server was friendly and attentive, even as he trained another young man on the tricks of the trade.
The Cottage, 190 Linden St.
Features food with Southern California flair such as Sesame Ahi Tuna nachos, seared rare and served with crispy wonton chips, Asian vegetables, ginger vinaigrette, and wasabi cream ($14); California Caesar salad with creamy avocado dressing, sourdough croutons, and shaved parmesan cheese ($10). Slow braised lamb bolognese penne rigate ($20); pan roasted bbq organic salmon with creamy green onion rice and fried okra ($24); buttermilk boneless fried chicken with whipped potatoes ($20); and more in a light and bright dining room.
CK’ Shanghai, 15 Washington St.
Chinese food. Full bar service. Appetizers of chicken wings, chicken fingers and peking ravioli (all about $7 per order) were all tasty and hot (temperature-wise). The shrimp fried rice ($8.95) was generously portioned. Service was excellent, and the restaurant itself is bright and clean and lively. Watch out for sitting in booths facing the front door on a winter night though — chilly.
And one beyond Wellesley…
Heritage of Sherborn, 33 North Main St., Sherborn
When ordering drinks just remember, this is a gastro-pub. All that means is don’t go asking for a Bud Lite or some such. Think craft, small batch, quality refreshments. Drinks in hand, our waiter took our order. For an appetizer, we tried the Kale and Chicken Nachos with apple-knocker cheddar, chive sour cream, and amazing smoked salsa ($10). A beautiful presentation arrived of about 3 large, circular nacho chips arranged artfully with judicious amounts of toppings. Crisp and fresh-tasting, these weren’t the type of nachos you plunk down in front of ten-year olds. Which is the point on Valentine’s Day.
Also on the appetizer menu, the chicken wings with barrel-aged hot sauce, gorgonzola cheese, and radishes ($12) were served with a fiery hot sauce. The crisp radishes served with it were a nice switch from the usual side of raw carrots and celery.
On the entree side of things, the fish and chips battered with Stormalong Cider and served with German coleslaw ($18) was a good-sized portion, and the batter was light and crispy, while the fish was firm and mild. The menu also includes semolina crusted skate wing with couscous, almonds, roasted beets, and kumquats ($22); and quinoa mushroom burger with arugula, apple knocker cheddar, crispy onions, tomato jam, and fries ($14)
Other things that looked enticing:
Fried mussels ($13), sausage and chickpea stew ($10), Pizzas ($14), and potato gratin ($7 as a side).
If the pub area is a bit bustling for your tastes, and you want a quieter environment for your meal, there are additional, smaller and more intimate rooms available by reservation.